As the weather gets colder and the leaves start to change, Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball season is nearly here.
With Big Blue Madness and the Blue-White game now behind us, the Wildcats will finally get the opportunity to play against someone other than themselves for the first time since July at GLOBL JAM, as they take on in-state Georgetown College in a preseason exhibition on Friday.
Coming off a successful season in 2023, which included a 24-4 regular season and an NAIA Final Four appearance in 2023, the Tigers will provide Kentucky with ample competition ahead of their season opener on November 6th.
Let’s take a look.
In the history of Kentucky basketball, the Wildcats have never lost an exhibition game to a non-professional team. In three exhibitions against Georgetown College, the Wildcats have won by an average of 39.3 points. So don’t expect Kentucky to lose on Friday, but do expect a lot of experimenting.
Kentucky hasn’t played an opponent since July at GLOBL. Since then, a little bit has changed. Kentucky has had nearly a full month of practice, added another seven-footer in Zvonimir Ivisic, the freshmen have matured more, and Rob Dillingham has added 20 pounds to his frame.
With that said, Friday’s exhibition likely won’t be extremely entertaining in terms of score, but it should be entertaining to see what the staff experiments with ahead of the season with lineups, actions, and more.
Less than two weeks out from the season opener, not one of Kentucky’s three seven-footers has appeared in any game action for fans to see. Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso are still recovering from foot injuries, while Zvonimir Ivisic is still trying to make up a lot of ground in practice, and it sounds like he won’t play in this game.
Given the lack of depth, look for Kentucky to continue to develop their small ball game plan and lineups, which will be beneficial early in the season while the bigs get up to speed. This will consist of a lot of Tre Mitchell, Jordan Burks, Adou Thiero, and Justin Edwards playing in the 4 and 5 spots, and in turn, a more modern playstyle.
While Kentucky doesn’t play a Power Five team until Kansas on November 14th, the Wildcat frontcourt will be tested in their season opener against New Mexico State, as they will match up against multiple bigs measuring 6-foot-10+. So with limited opportunities, it will be key to find ways to still be effective with limited size, specifically in rebounding and post-defense.
In his last two games in the United States, Antonio Reeves has shot a combined 2-19 from three (1-10 vs Kansas State, 1-9 Blue-White game). That’s not good. However, Reeves did shoot an unreal 56.3 percent (18-32 3P) from three at GLOBL JAM in Canada this summer.
So, does Kentucky need to move this season’s games to Canada? No, but Reeves does need to take advantage of these confidence-building opportunities, especially as a shooter. Fortunately, Kentucky has the personnel this season not to be as reliant on Reeves, but he is certainly expected to carry a lot of the scoring load.
Another key to watch for in this game is Reeves’ defense. While he wasn’t terrible last year, it was far from being a strength, so he made it a point to improve on the defensive end this offseason.
Will be interesting to see if Reeves can shine on both ends of the floor Friday.
Given this is an exhibition, there are no official lines or predictions. However, given the talent disparity in this exhibition, expect Kentucky to win by 25+.
That said, at times in the past, Kentucky has gotten carried away with experimenting, only beating D2 Miles College by nine points in 2021.
And with Kentucky still down Aaron Bradshaw, Ugonna Onyenso, and likely Zvonimir Ivisic, don’t expect Kentucky to win by 50+, but it will still be fun to see most of that team finally face a real opponent at Rupp Arena, which is what matters most.
Time/Date: 7:00 pm ET on Friday, October 27th, 2023
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
TV Channel: SEC Network
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).